That’s kind of terrifying. It’s pretty horrible that adults just don’t get simple concepts like “no means no”, “inability to consent means no”, “the absence of a yes means no”, or “coerced consent is not consent”. And what’s worse is that, when this way of thinking lodges itself in our cultural headspace, it isn’t just adults who are on the receiving end of it. Rather, this mentality creeps its way into children’s media as well, and too often goes entirely unchallenged within that media. Kids aren’t going to go read a blog post about Snow White or Sleeping Beauty’s inability to consent while asleep after watching those movies—there needs to be some kind of message within the film (or book, or show) that shows them why it isn’t kosher. And while there’s a lot of onus on kids’ media to be didactic in some way, a lot of it still falls flat.
Trigger warning for discussion of rape throughout this post.
Since the publication of the final Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling has offered us many bits of trivia about the HP universe. Some of these are interesting and some are frustrating, but few are so problematic as what she shared about Voldemort’s inability to understand or feel love. In a Q and A hosted on The Leaky Cauldron, she said that it had its basis in his being conceived under the effects of a love potion. She said his conception was:
[A] symbolic way of showing that he came from a loveless union – but of course, everything would have changed if Merope had survived and raised him herself and loved him. The enchantment under which Tom Riddle fathered Voldemort is important because it shows coercion, and there can’t be many more prejudicial ways to enter the world than as the result of such a union.
Now, as we’ve discussed before, one of the polarizing aspects of the Harry Potter books is that they tend to use magical allegories as substitutes for real issues. Lupin’s lycanthropy is used as an allegory for AIDS, for example, and racism based on skin color was replaced by racism based on percentage of Wizarding blood. And as I have pointed out before, love potions are essentially magical date rape drugs.
Imagine you live in a world where magic is real. Awesome, right? Now imagine that people can and regularly do use that magic to force you to do or believe or forget things you otherwise would never do, and we’re getting into more frightening territory. Unfortunately, this is the case in many magical worlds, where bodily autonomy and consent fall easily in the face of a well-cast spell.